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A Diversity Milestone for Federal Judges

Late yesterday, the Senate voted 89-1 to confirm Stephanie Rose as a district court judge in Iowa. President Obama has now had 72 women confirmed to the federal bench so far in his presidency – the same number as George W. Bush had in 8 years.

President Obama has made it a priority to nominate not only highly qualified, mainstream consensus nominees, but also ones who reflect the great diversity of the American people. Most prominent, of course, are Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Among his confirmed lower court nominees so far, 65% have been women or people of color (37% have been people of color, and 44% have been women).

Unfortunately, from the beginning of President Obama's term, Senate Republicans have pulled out the stops to block his nominees from ever reaching the bench. The overwhelming majority of them are approved by the Judiciary Committee with overwhelming bipartisan support, usually with no opposition at all. They then proceed to the Senate floor, where ... their nominations languish.

Abusing the power granted to the minority party under Senate rules, Republicans simply refuse to give the consent that is generally needed in order to schedule a confirmation vote. So while President Bush's confirmed district court nominees on average got a floor vote 33 days after committee approval, President Obama's have been forced to wait an absurd 96 days, nearly three times longer. Republicans generally do not say why they are preventing a vote on consensus nominees – they just do it and hope that the public doesn't notice their transparent obstructionism.

There are still be another 17 pending district court nominations that the Senate could vote on today:

  • Twelve were nominated to positions where the workload is so high they have been officially declared judicial emergencies.
  • All but two were approved by the Judiciary Committee with overwhelming bipartisan support.
  • Yet seven of them have been waiting since June or earlier for a vote from the full Senate.

Five of the district court nominees being blocked by Senate Republicans are women or people of color. They include Gonzalo Curiel, a California Latino who Republicans have forced to wait 133 days (and still counting) since clearing committee. Lorna Schofield could have become the first person of Filipino descent in American history to be named as an Article III federal judge any time since July 19, but Republicans have not allowed the Senate to vote. Brian Davis, an African American who has served as a Florida state judge for nearly 20 years, has not been allowed a confirmation vote even though the Judiciary Committee approved him back in June. Also waiting since June is Jesus Bernal, a Latino who has served in the public defender's office in California since 1996.

The American people are benefiting from the more diverse federal bench that President Obama is creating, with Stephanie Rose being an excellent example. But Americans deserve better than to have Republicans obstruct every nomination, no matter what, simply because it was made by Barack Obama. Every one of the 17 remaining pending district court nominees should be voted on this month, before the Senate leaves for its next recess.